It is seen in the course of the Roman history that, after the consulship was thrown open to the commons, the republic conceded this dignity to all its citizens, without distinction either of age or blood; nay, that in this matter respect for age was never made a ground for preference among the Romans, whose constant aim it was to discover excellence whether existing in old or young. To this we have the testimony of Valerius Corvinus, himself made consul in his twenty-fourth year, who, in addressing his soldiers, said of the consulship that it was “the reward not of birth but of desert.”
Whether the course thus followed by the Romans was well judged or not, is a question on which much might be said. The concession as to blood, however, was made under necessity, and as I have observed on another occasion, the same necessity which obtained in Rome, will be found to obtain in every other city which desires to achieve the results which Rome achieved. For you cannot subject men to hardships unless you hold out rewards, nor can you without danger deprive them of those rewards whereof you have held out hopes. It was consequently necessary to extend, betimes, to the commons the hope of obtaining the consulship, on which hope they fed themselves for a while, without actually realizing it. But afterwards the hope alone was not enough, and it had to be satisfied. For while cities which do not employ men of plebeian birth in any of those undertakings wherein glory is to be gained, as we have seen was the case with Venice, may treat these men as they please, those other cities which desire to do as Rome did, cannot make this distinction. And if there is to be no distinction in respect of blood, nothing can be pleaded for a distinction in respect of age. On the contrary, that distinction must of necessity cease to be observed. For where a young man is appointed to a post which requires the prudence which are is supposed to bring, it must be, since the choice rests with the people, that he is thus advanced in consideration of some noble action which he has performed; but when a young man is of such excellence as to have made a name for himself by some signal achievement, it were much to the detriment of his city were it unable at once to make use of him, but had to wait until he had grown old, and had lost, with youth, that alacrity and vigour by which his country might have profited; as Rome profited by the services of Valerius Corvinus, of Scipio, of Pompey, and of many others who triumphed while yet very young.
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